First supersonic flight

The first supersonic flight on record was made by US Air Force Captain Charles “Chuck” Yeager, on October 14, 1947.

Yeager, then 24, broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 aircraft, which he called Glamorous Glennis in honor of his wife, Glennis Faye Dickhouse.

The Bell X-1 had been created as a joint venture between the Air Force and NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics), which would later be renamed NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Adminstration). Rocket powered, the Bell X-1 did not take off from the ground, but was launched from the belly of a Boeing B-29 at an altitude of 23,000 feet (7,000 meters). The rocket engine then took it to its test altitude of 43,000 feet (13,000 meters). At a top speed of Mach 1.06 (700 miles/1,127 kilometers per hour), it traveled faster than the speed of sound. This record setting flight was number 50 for the aircraft.

Others had claimed to break the sound barrier before, but due to disputes over those claims, Yeager is credited with being the first. Hans Guido Mutke, a fighter pilot in the German Luftwaffe, claimed to have set the record on April 9, 1945. Since his plane’s speedometer was broken when he made the flight -- a daring wartime rescue effort - Mutke’s claim cannot be proven.

An even closer contender with Yeager was George Schwartz “Wheaties” Welch, a World War II American flying ace. On October 1, 1947, Welch took an F-86 Sabre into a dive from 35,000 feet. Some people in the vicinity reported that they had heard a sonic boom. An even louder and clearer sonic boom was heard just half an hour before Yeager’s October 14 flight, when Welch dove from 37,000 feet. However, Welch’s claim to the record is not officially recognized because the equipment used to measure his speed was deemed too inaccurate to prove he had really passed the speed of sound.

In March 1948, Yeager set yet another record by piloting the Bell X-1 to a speed of Mach 1.45 (957 miles/1,540 kilometers per hour) at an altitude of 71,900 feet (21,900 meters), the highest and fastest a manned airplane had ever been flown at the time. He won the 1948 Collier Trophy for his piloting, along with Larry Bell of Bell Aircraft for designing the plane and John Stack of NACA for NACA's contributions.


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